Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) — Not as cutting edge as you might think

“It’s poetry. The poetry of war.”

Lissa’s rating: A year later, and I’m finally finishing this review.

Lissa’s review: According to the “properties” function on my computer, I last worked on this review over a year ago. No, I haven’t watched the movie since, and I really have no intention of it. But Duckie has been bugging me (for over a year now) to finish this review, and I just want to see the look on his face when it’s actually there on the front page.

You might be asking how you can trust my opinion when I haven’t watched the movie in over a year. I’ll give Ghost Dog this — it’s memorable. I remember as much of the movie now as I did ten minutes after it was over.

No, that’s not a compliment.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is the story of an African American hitman who considers himself a samurai. However, despite the sword that Forest Whitacre is brandishing on the box, he’s much more into some pretty spiffy guns. He considers himself a retainer to a mobster named Louie, who saved his life at one point. This all makes sense to me. The part I start to get confused is where they communicate by carrier pigeon.

Carrier pigeon: the only way to be sure the FBI won’t know what you’re up to.

Anyway, as most mobsters are, Louie is involved with some scheme of hits with another mobster named Sonny. Sonny looks like a pimp and fancies himself a rapper. He also obviously has it out for Louie, who screwed up on a hit Sonny wanted him to make. Again, except for the carrier pigeons, I’m following all this, too. Because he considers himself Louie’s retainer, Ghost Dog takes it upon himself to protect Louie, despite the fact that Sonny’s boys are looking for him, and it’s not to share a cannoli. Got it.

You know, looking at the above premise it could almost seem like Ghost Dog is a tolerable, maybe even interesting movie. Samurai swords usually are indicative of good movies, and while I’m not much of a mobster girl, I’ll concede that mob movies can be good. (Although I really can’t stand Jersey accents.) But trust me, it isn’t good.

First of all, our illustrious hero — whom we have very little backstory on and no clue of his character aside from he’s a samurai wannabe who likes rap music and carrier pigeons — doesn’t speak for the first 40 minutes or so, except to read random passages from “Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai” by Yamamoto Tsunetomo. His silence actually gets to the point where it’s rather distracting. I suppose it would be fine if he never spoke, or pulled a Silent Bob and spoke only in semi-profound sentiments. But he doesn’t. When he does speak, it’s nothing special. It’s… dialogue. Which I’d have no problem with if he’d spoken sometime in the 40 minutes before. It goes from being thought-provoking to just plain stupid.

Second, let’s talk about those random passages from Hagakure. They’re read at the beginnings of scenes, while being printed across a black screen in white text. Some of them make sense in relation to the movie. Others just don’t. I really don’t get the connection at times. Now, I’m all for thinking in my movies, but come on. Don’t think that just because something has a lot of big words and finds its origins in Japan means your application of it will automatically be deep. Instead, spend some time developing your characters and their relationships. I was so lost as to some of these people’s roles in the movie.

Finally, fades. Now, I’m not much into film making technique. I tend to focus on plot, characterization, and maybe acting. And maybe special effects, but only if they’re really cool or really cheesy. The only time I REALLY notice camera techniques is if they’re phenomenal or if they’re truly annoying. Guess which category the constant fades to black to denote a scene change fell into?

Oh yeah, and for the record, there is no samurai action here. If you’re going to be a samurai, break out the swords and have a proper duel. There isn’t even good gunfighting here. And did I mention the pacing? This movie is SLOW. I thought two hours had gone by and was shocked to discover it was only 45 minutes. That sort of boredom should come at $900 a semester for a college calculus class.

A year’s perspective doesn’t change my mind, incidentally. It only reinforces that this is a movie to be avoided at all costs, even if the users on IMDb give it a 7.5 out of 10. It’s trite, it’s boring, it’s slow, it’s weird, and it makes no sense. Honestly, I can not think of a single reason to see this movie, with the possible exception of insomnia. Or if you really have a thing for carrier pigeons.

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